Self-isolation exemption given to some food workers
When contacted by NHS Test and Trace, staff at hundreds of food production sites will be able to continue working if they test negative daily, whether or not they are vaccinated.
Some staff in the food supply chain industry will be exempt from self-isolation rules as the government tries to prevent food supply problems. The announcement comes after concerns that track-and-trace ‘pinging’, which notifies staff that they need to self-isolate, has led to reported labour shortages among supermarkets.
This intervention, the government said, should alleviate concerns in the food industry about supplies and lack of availability on retail shelves. Food manufacturers – part of a list of designated sites – will be able to administer the tests that will enable workers to skip the need for self-isolation.
Environment Secretary George Eustice told BBC Breakfast, “We’re never going to take risks with our food supply chain.” Eustice added that a list of about 200 food production sites were covered by the new rules. However, currently, it is unclear which companies will be on the list.
Between 8th and 15th July in England and Wales, a record 618,903 people were told to self-isolate by the NHS Covid app.
The government said workers, regardless of vaccination status, could do daily Covid testing instead of isolating. It is expected that up to 10,000 workers in the food manufacturing industry will qualify for the new scheme. The scheme will not apply to retail staff.
The new daily contact testing measures are beginning at 15 supermarket warehouses, followed by 150 depots next week.
“Clear, unambiguous advice” needed
In a statement, the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said the announcement would bring some relief, but key details were missing about how the rules would apply to individual companies and workers.
BMPA stated: “So far it’s been announced that key workers in ‘about 500 sites’ in the food supply chain will be allowed to ‘test to return to work’ instead of having to self-isolate after they’ve been ‘pinged’ by the App or contacted by Test and Trace. According to Mr Eustice, this includes about 200 food production sites. However, at this stage we don’t know who is on that list.
“It’s also not yet clear which workers at other sites that are not on that list will be exempt from self-isolation. In this separate scheme, we understand that companies will need to apply for exemption for individual workers on a job-by-job and person-by-person basis but we don’t know what jobs would be eligible.
“Right now, we urgently need the Government to publish more information giving clear, unambiguous guidance on which sites are exempt, which job roles qualify for exemption and exactly how these new rules will be applied.”
The association has also questioned the Government’s decision to end the provision of free lateral flow testing kits to companies last Monday “just as the ‘pingdemic’ started to take hold.” BMPA said that the end to provisions “makes it more difficult and more expensive for companies to provide workplace testing and will inevitably start filtering through into higher food prices.
“We also hope that the various Government departments that will be handling exemption applications for individual workers between now and 16 August have sufficient administrative capacity to process them quickly enough.”
BMPA added: “Our fear is that, if infections keep rising at the current rate, there will be so many non-exempt workers taken out of the system that, regardless of those protected ‘key sites’, the rest of the supply chain around them will start failing.”